Back in August 2015, Directors UK launched their new website (I wrote about this briefly here). Now we are 3 months on I thought it’d be a good chance to take stock and have a think about what went well, what didn’t go well, what went weirdly and what – if anything – I’ve learned from the whole experience.
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy
Not that I’m referring to Directors UK’s lovely users as “the enemy” but it is an almost universal truth that you wont’, can’t, and probably shouldn’t really expect to have thought of absolutely everything and to have tested for all eventualities. Something would have been missed, something will have been slightly misconceived. This is inevitable.
I would argue that it’s far better to launch a project like this expecting to have to (in the words of Monty Python) adopt, adapt and improve in a rapid and responsive way rather than trying to convince yourself that nothing will have to change. Managing your project in something like an Agile way is probably a good idea, I’m no fan of slavishly adhering to a set framework just for the sake of it but I think there are some useful principles in that particular methodology that are almost always worth following, it’s almost always going to be easier to fix or respond to something if you’re working with small, rapidly deployed, incremental changes than monolithic things.
You may (almost certainly will) find that some of the stakeholders in the project baulk at this sort of approach, even considering the possibility that things might not be absolutely perfect on launch is terrifying for some people. But you should make every attempt to convince them that this is worth doing, they’ll thank you for it in the long run.
Test, test and test again
Having said that (above) you would be mad not to test as much as you possibly can. Take the amount of time you think you need for testing, and add 50%. Get internal testing groups sorted, identify indicative user groups who will test things for you and even throw it open to totally random strangers. As long as you understand the context in which your testing is happening and how to qualify any feedback you receive within that context then you can’t go wrong.
Linking to my first point, testing will show you things that you can’t even envisage. No matter how immaculately thought-through your project, testing will show you something you didn’t expect – whether that is that a particular feature isn’t quite working as expected or a particular feature is working far better than you ever dreamed it would.
Testing is important, budget for it, allow appropriate time for it, and also ensure you have time to properly analyse and act upon the things that it tells you.
Your website won’t populate itself
I’ve done enough web relaunches to know that content migration is one of the most soul destroying tasks in the entire process. Even moreso when you have an extremely content-heavy site (as DUK’s was) which had been managed in a slightly…idiosyncratic way (the staff here had developed lots of ‘hacks’ and workarounds to get the site to look and work how they needed it to). There was very little in the way of consistency, and the new site was structured in a slightly different way. Luckily we’d allowed enough time for this part of the process, but it always takes ages.
Equally, if you can, you should always try to go live with some new content, a website relaunch will typically see a spike in traffic (shiny, new things inevitably attract attention). I’ve written in the past about how important content is, a website relaunch makes this even more true. Your site will be under scrutiny, if you have a blog but haven’t published anything for the past year then…well, I’d ask why you have a blog at all, but nonetheless, people are going to be looking at it – make sure there’s something there! Linked to this you should have a content strategy (you should have one of these anyway…) regarding how you’re going to feed the hungry beast that your new website will (almost inevitably) be. It’s also likely your new site will have different content demands to what you’re used to, in the case of Directors UK this involved us commissioning a lot of new photography of members at work (thanks to the very talented Giles Smith for that) to support the more image-led design that we were going with.
A website is probably (although not always) the largest part of your digital portfolio, completely refreshing this will give you the chance to reevaluate every element of your digital presence – grab this chance with both hands and make the most of it. There will inevitably be some slightly underloved parts of your digital activity, a website relaunch gives you the context within which you can ask yourself whether or not this is still a needed tool, and if so why you aren’t using it and how you can fix that.
Trust the people you’ve employed for the job
You will have likely employed an agency (or agencies) for your project, you employed them for a reason, they are experienced, talented professionals. I know a project of this size is always stressful but the best work is achieved when the people you’ve employed for the job are trusted and empowered to do that job. Of course you need to oversee and manage the project ensuring it meets your needs and budget and that everything is going according to plan. But make sure that this is a collaboration, a partnership in which everyone feels able to do their best work. Communication, as ever, is key – being able to communicate what you want and need and give proper feedback is essential, as is trusting your agency (/agencies) to listen to and act upon this. Equally important is your ability to trust them enough to take on board any recommendations or opinions they may share with you. I’ve seen a lot of projects fall apart due to intransigence (on both sides) and an unwillingness to do what’s best simply out of pride, confusion or stubbornness.
Be able to see the wood for the trees
This project has (or will) probably taken up an inordinate amount of your time, money and energy. You will have thought and worried about little else. However make sure that you can still appreciate what you’ve achieved, too many people reach the end of projects absolutely hating the thing they’re working on. It’s probably really good, you’ve spent loads of time on it, be proud of what you’ve accomplished!